Great Rock Albums of 1987: Marillion- Clutching At Straws

In 1987, my friends of the band Torque Show cut a demo which they titled, “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It.” While this post isn’t about their demo, I can’t help but thinking that Marillion applied the saying to their 1987 album, “Clutching At Straws.” They vary little from the formula of their previous three albums on this one and I think it’s the better for it. Back in 87, I thought it was a great that a great prog rock band could be so successful in a music world where synth pop was commercially popular.

“Clutching At Straws” is a concept album. It’s the story of a 29 year old man named Torch, supposedly a descendent of the Jester, who is out of work, a failed singer as well as having a failed marriage and being a deadbeat father. As a result, Torch finds comfort in alcohol. As he gets drunk, he contemplates his life and his failures. The songs set the scenes perfectly. “Hotel Hobbies” very accurately describe the goings on in a sleazy hotel and opens the scene for the rest of the concept very well. That’s probably why I stay at Premier Inns these days. The music helps too. It begins with a soft, keyboard intro with Fish’s voice almost lulling you before upping the tempo and a firecracker of a solo from Steve Rockery. Throughout the album, we get the fine musicianship from the band while the concept behind the lyrics never gets lost.

What I said about the opener could somewhat be applied to all of the other songs. Great music helps the songs tell the story of the album. It is little wonder that it produced three singles, “Warm Wet Circles,” “Incommunicado” and my personal favourite, “Sugar Mice.” However, all of these are great songs but what makes “Sugar Mice” stand out is the great guitar solo from Steve and the line from the song, “If you want my address, it’s number one at the end of the bar where I sit with the broken angels clutching at straws and nursing a scar.” Great stuff!

As I said in many a post, for me what makes the album are the hidden gems on it. There are two which really stand out for me here, “Just for the Record” and “White Russian.” Both tracks typify what I have always liked about Marillion, great lyrics, attention grabbing intros, cool guitar solos, the fact that Fish seems to put his heart and soul fully into the songs while he sings them, and I don’t sing the praises of keyboardist Mark Kelly nearly enough. He joins the likes of REO Speedwagon’s Neil Doughty, Claude Schnell of Dio and John Galvin of Molly Hatchet fame in my list of underrated keyboards players. I dare anyone to listen to any Marillion song and tell me that Mark doesn’t pack the goods. Okay, that’s a bit strong as everyone is entitled to their opinion but I just happen to think he’s that good!

Track Listing:

  1. Hotel Hobbies
  2. Warm Wet Circles
  3. That Time of the Night (The Short Straw)
  4. Just for the Record
  5. White Russian
  6. Incommunicado
  7. Torch Song
  8. Slainte Mhath
  9. Sugar Mice
  10. The Last Straw
  11. Happy Ending

Fish- lead vocals

Steve Rockery- guitars

Mark Kelly- keyboards

Pete Trewavas- bass

Ian Mosley- drums

Additional Musicians:

Tessa Niles- backing vocals on tracks 3 and 9

Chris Kimsey- backing vocals on “Incomminicado”

John Cavanaugh- Dr. Finley voice on Torch Song

While the closing track might be “Happy Ending,” actually, it’s only eight seconds long where someone shouts “Help” and Fish laughs, the album didn’t provide one afterwards. Fish would leave the band and go solo. But that’s for another time because with “Clutching at Straws,” you could say that he left on a high.

Next post: The Hooters- One Way Home

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20 Responses to “Great Rock Albums of 1987: Marillion- Clutching At Straws”

  1. Their best album? I play it all the time! And yes Mark is awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ‘Twas Mike’s enthusiasm that got me into this band. I have the 24-bit 2CD edition of this, it’s awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Twas Mike’s enthusiasm that has almost made me listen to them, still on the list to do it, just haven’t done it yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think this is their peak – or the previous one. It’s a shame they didn’t do a couple more albums with Fish.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I had this on cassette and used to listen to it on my paper round

    Liked by 1 person

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